Systematic Review of Health Information Exchange in Primary Care Practices

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Background: Unprecedented federal interest and funding are focused on secure, standardized, electronic transfer of health information among health care organizations, termed health information exchange (HIE). The stated goals are improvements in health care quality, efficiency, and cost. Ambulatory primary care practices are essential to this process; however, the factors that motivate them to participate in HIE are not well studied, particularly among small practices.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of the literature about HIE participation from January 1990 through mid-September 2008 to identify peer-reviewed and non–peer-reviewed publications in bibliographic databases and websites. Reviewers abstracted each publication for predetermined key issues, including stakeholder participation in HIE, and the benefits, barriers, and overall value to primary care practices. We identified themes within each key issue, then grouped themes and identified supporting examples for analysis.

Results: One hundred and sixteen peer-reviewed, non–peer-reviewed, and web publications were retrieved, and 61 met inclusion criteria. Of 39 peer-reviewed publications, one-half reported original research. Among themes of cost savings, workflow efficiency, and quality, the only benefits to be reliably documented were those regarding efficiency, including improved access to test results and other data from outside the practice and decreased staff time for handling referrals and claims processing. Barriers included cost, privacy and liability concerns, organizational characteristics, and technical barriers. A positive return on investment has not been documented.

Conclusions: The potential for HIE to reduce costs and improve the quality of health care in ambulatory primary care practices is well recognized but needs further empiric substantiation